Point-Counterpoint: #MeToo at the ROM

Controversial exhibit sparks important discussion about sexual misconduct 

#MeToo & The Arts at the Royal Ontario Museum is a response to allegations of sexual assault against photographer Raghubir Singh.
Credit: 
Photo from ROM press release

The new exhibit Modernism at the Ganges at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) features the photographs of Raghubir Singh profiling everyday life on the Ganges River. 

In a recent Walrus article, Singh’s exhibit was challenged after his assistant Jaishri Abichandani came forward with sexual assault allegations against the photographer.

Despite the allegations, the ROM moved forward with the exhibit and staged another exhibit at the same time two floors down called #MeToo & The Arts, which includes a video interview with local activists and artists addressing the issue.

Point: The ROM should take a stronger stand

The #MeToo & The Arts exhibit is an inadequate response to Singh’s rape accusations and fails to do justice to Abichandani and others’ experiences of sexual assault.

A curator’s job is to clearly and meaningfully present an exhibit’s art. At the ROM, the curators have a responsibility to present their exhibits in their full context, which includes the physical space they’re presented in.

The use of space is foundational to curators’ work in the museum; its implications should be obvious.

While the museum offered the #MeToo & The Arts exhibit at the same time, it wasn’t at the same place. The exhibits are on different floors, which means museum visitors can easily overlook their relationship and experience the works independently.

Curators should be aware of this separation’s effects, given the use of space to convey meaning is their job.

This distance gives viewers the impression these are two unrelated exhibits, rather than one being a response to the other. While placing it in its own space, the ROM can claim to be responding to the issue while giving Singh a near-uncompromised platform.

The ROM’s decision allows Singh’s work to be viewed outside of the context of his sexually inappropriate behaviour. It reveres him as a photographer, rather than criticizing his abuse of power.

Counterpoint: The ROM fulfilled their responsibility to inform

The ROM did the bare minimum, but in this case, it’s enough.

To satisfy the requests of dissatisfied museum-goers, the ROM opened a second exhibit titled #MeToo & The Arts on a separate floor from the Singh exhibit.

This exhibit names artists who have allegations of sexual assault against them—some of whom have work on display at the ROM.

It also depicted timelines of Singh’s alleged assault on his assistant, Abichandani, and of the progress made by the #MeToo movement in the arts community.

It isn’t much, but it’s a valid measure.

The curators of the ROM associated the #MeToo & The Arts exhibit with Singh in addition to other artists facing sexual misconduct allegations.

If they did anything more than this to publicize allegations against Singh, then the appropriate and fair step would be to hold every artist in the museum to the same standard.  

If the ROM were to address the allegations against Singh by removing his artwork, it’d be an unjustifiable response—considering the work of other artists named in the #MeToo & The Arts exhibit’s works are still hanging in the museum. 

The ROM’s efforts to inform the public of these sexual assaults were minimal, but adequate. Their responsibility to the public is to offer information and educate about all relevant materials held within their walls.

The ROM fulfilled this duty—no more, no less.

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